Foxes pop up in my sketchbook in the same unexpected, and I hope charming and rather mysterious way, that real foxes turn up in my suburban neighborhood. They are always smaller than expected and trot so quickly past that they are easily missed. The top two-page spread of a Red Fox seems to have a story. It seems like an excerpt from a children’s book, but that’s all there is…so far. The portrait of the Fox also seems to have some story to tell. That seems to be the nature of these elusive animals. A flash of red, and then it’s gone.
My 2020 “Pandemic Sketchbook” chronicled my life during the lockdown through the advent of Covid vaccines. In 2021, I started a new sketchbook whose themes were more hopeful, so I didn’t think of it as a pandemic journal. It was just a way of keeping a habit of sketching several times a week. In 2022, I started a third sketchbook, smaller and the paper is best for dry media only. I made several charcoal sketches in early spring based on museum postcards, snapshots from my 1990’s instant camera and other visual cues uncovered while decluttering my house or reading the news.
When I started drawing and writing in my ‘Pandemic sketchbook’ in early Spring at the beginning of the stay-at-home advisory, I might have thought that the pandemic would end before I ran out of blank pages. Sadly, that is not the case. The virus continues to burn through all the dry tinder of non-immune populations worldwide.
I have three pages to go in my sketchbook and a new, blank one waiting to be filled. The latest page is of tumbling leaves falling downward. I wet the paper with a natural sponge, then painted and splattered fall colors onto the damp page. When dry, I drew the leaves. Using dried leaves I had pressed in a book as templates, I traced around them, adding the veins and details later. I’m hoping that by next Spring, when I have filled up Volume 2 of my Pandemic Sketchbook, we have an effective, widely distributed vaccine and the Pandemic is subsiding.
The first watercolor (pictured below) was painted in my Pandemic Sketchbook starting with a loose, wet on wet technique with some dry brush details added later. (Note to impatient people: I use a hair dryer to speed up the drying time so I can add the next layer of color sooner rather than waiting.) The sketchbook paper is intended for dry media and not really thick enough for watercolor as it tends to buckle. Despite that, the paper can handle a pencil sketch with a light watercolor wash, if not overworked. The intense red and green colors of the peppers are much better in this painting than in the next version of the still life, but I don’t remember exactly how I blended those colors to get that intensity (or ‘high chroma’/‘saturation’.) I always use the same limited watercolor palette so that was not the variable. Probably using less water on my brush and on the mixing tray before applying the paint to the paper made the hues more intense. I’ll have to remember this…
The second watercolor (below) was painted on heavier watercolor paper starting with wet on wet then adding details with watercolor pencils later. The objects have a more hard-edged style than the first painting which tends to make them look a bit flat. I added highlights by trying to leave white paper, then by removing (picking up) pigment with a wet brush, and finally by adding white gouache which sadly looks a bit chalky. Another problem is the shadow on the left side of the pumpkin which looks like a sunken bruise. I might go back to soften the hard edges by picking up some pigment and fix the ‘bruise’ perhaps by continuing the indentation ‘line’ of the pumpkin and blending out the shadow. I’m at the point where I am a bit tired of painting this still life though, so I’ll let it rest for a while. The 140 lb watercolor paper can take a lot more abuse and redos than the 60 lb sketchbook paper so I can’t use material failure as an excuse to stop working on this version of the still life.
So what have I learned by painting the same still life twice? The quality and weight of paper definitely affects the outcome. Hard edges fight with the illusion of volume, as my teacher pointed out when she saw my preliminary posts on Instagram. White highlights are best if you don’t paint over that lightest spot in the first place. Maybe I should get some masking fluid? I still struggle with wet on wet followed by a dry brush for details because the dry brush details sometimes obliterate the spontaneity of the wet technique. I should make a color chart to practice getting the right intensity of color and how to mix my colors and so on. You can see my small palette in the phot so a color chart would be manageable. And finally, draping a piece of white sheet over my drafting lamp makes a surprisingly nice still life backdrop!
Yesterday, November 3, 2020, was Election Day in the USA, but counting the ballots will take days or even weeks, so as of right now, we don’t know who won the U.S. presidency. I made a collage from newspaper clippings in my Pandemic Sketchbook to distract myself and to reflect on this historic moment. I only have a few pages left in my sketchbook, but the pandemic is far from over…stay well everyone.